Practice Makes Presence
Recently, we took on the endeavor to provide more instruction and an opportunity for discussion with our "tween" and our teen regarding the Bible. We have decided to start with Luke’s gospel for a couple of reasons. Starting in the gospels allows us to tip our toes into the Old Testament often, while providing an examination of the teachings and mission of Jesus, all the while connecting this emerging narrative to the early church via the book of Acts (Luke wrote these books as a series). What follows are brief snapshots of our discussion and observations that have the most timely relevance to our current events.
Luke Chapter 1
Luke chapter 2 tells the Birth story of Jesus which means the whole first chapter was used to lay some important groundwork. We learn of a priest who is named “Yahweh remembers” who gets the shock of his life on the luckiest day of his life. He is drawn from among thousands of priests to enter the temple on Israel’s behalf and when does, the Angel Gabriel appears and announces that his barren wife will soon conceive a son who will be a messenger for the coming messiah.
Six months later, the Angel visits Mary and tells her that she will conceive a child and that she should call him Jesus. We are told she is a virgin, which in greek is the word parthenos which was used both to indicate youth and sexual experience, and that this pregnancy will be overshadowed by “the power of the Most High”. Historians and scientist have much to say about whether this virgin birth actually occurred. To summarize for our discussion, it is important to realize in first century Judaism held a worldview that did not separate the world into categories like nature and supernature but instead, held that God was in nature, worked within nature, and recreates via nature (these are also major themes in the teaching of Jesus). The same modern audiences that recoil at a virgin birth seem to give a pass to Elizabeth becoming pregnant, even though she was well past her childbearing years (I suspect this is because we see this in modern life quite often). The combination of these two stories tell us that if the divine force is part of the universe and not removed from it, and if this God force shows a present concern for nature’s health and direction then these two significantly distinct human births make it very clear that nature is itself a mediator of God’s work. Even now, human birth as common as is, is still regarding with simultaneously mystical, miraculous and scientific wonder.
Modern advances in medicine readily provide the type of healing that would have been viewed as miraculous in the first century. Perhaps a miracle is more of a statement of our expectation than it is about any defiance of scientific rigor. It seems unnecessarily bold (maybe to the level of suggesting a birth via a virgin) to assert that scientific knowledge has already discovered all of the observable and repeatable patterns of our universe. This should help us set our minds and hearts toward the type of breakthrough this story speaks of regarding nature. Nature is good, God is present within it, and is still at work within it to restore its goodness wherever and whenever it has been distorted by human shortsightedness and greed.
A wry smile comes my face as I read that of the three people first mentioned by Luke, two are women. One of the women has carried the social disgrace of a barren womb for decades and the other is a girl young enough to believe her age (and likely her gender) is a burden to being used for an important purpose, especially one requiring a visit by an Angel. Yet, these felt barriers, as self destructive as they may be, are the very messengers of this divine work that intends to restore to all what has been lost. Human suffering takes many forms and this story briefly introduces the particular pain caused by your own biology in Elizabeth’s barrenness and the pain caused by culture in Mary’s surprise that despite her age she had “found favor.” It seems that even when our body fails us and our world is hostile, God sees these conditions as the opportunity to reverse the course of our world but by working directly inside of it and by working inside of us. With this realization, Mary adds in verse 38, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Here am I, servant of the Lord, indeed!